Answers to Interviewing Questions – Part Two

Answers to Interviewing Questions – Part Two

More Answers that Win Job Offers

Would you like to read a true story about an interviewing boo-boo?

The year is 1996. The company is Pizza Hut. The situation: A candidate is applying for a managerial position at the corporate headquarters. This individual is enthusiastic and energetic with excellent experience and seems to be the first choice for the position. But . . . he shoots himself in the foot. It’s a very warm day and the interview has gone very well. Toward the end, the interviewer asks, “Would you like a cold drink . . . ice water, soda?”

Our hero responds: “Thank you. I would like a Coke if you have one.”

The interview ends with no job offer. What went wrong?



The only job where you can start at the top is . . . digging a hole!

The first cardinal rule of job interviewing is research … research … research. If the candidate had performed his due diligence, he would have learned that Pizza Hut at that time was a subsidiary of Pepsico. Asking for a Coke instead of a Pepsi was not only treason but displayed a complete lack of preparation.

In Answers to Interviewing Questions – Part One,” we explored the “Tell me about yourself” question and the most appropriate way to answer it. Also included were the so-called ’illegal questions’ interviewers should not ask, though some of them do, and how to recognize them. In this article, Part Two , we will look at three questions that are among the most difficult and provoking for job applicants:

"Most people work just hard enough not to get fired. And get paid just enough money not to quit." - George Carlin

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

And the statement,

You appear to be overqualified.

After more than 20 years in the corporate world, interviewing hundreds of men and women, I’ve asked all the common questions as well as the uncommon. Some of the answers I heard might have been appropriate for applicants who had just arrived from another planet. If you want to read about them for yourself, see How to Interview – Unsuccessfully.”

Q. How many people work here?

A. About half of them!

What are your strengths?

Now let’s get down to business. If you are asked, ‘what are your strengths?’ what would be the most appropriate answer?

a) I can bench press 342 pounds.

b) I once had to push my car all by myself two blocks to a gas station … uphill.

c) I work out three times a week at the gym. Here go ahead and punch me as hard as you can in the stomach. Go ahead.

d) None of the above.

Of course, (d) is the right answer. The other responses are ridiculous but would you believe, I once heard (c) from an applicant? No, I did not take him up on his offer.

You may be too nervous to realize it during the interview but this ‘strengths’ question provides the perfect opening for you to present a capsule account of how your past experience, education and especially, your accomplishments, have made you the perfect candidate for the job.

Similar to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question which seeks to uncover personal information that the interviewer would like to know but should not ask, you need to prepare a short commercial that emphasizes your sterling qualities and appropriate accomplishments in past positions.

Rehearsal is imperative and brevity is the soul of fit. No one wants to hire a windbag. A 60-second answer is the max. You can always ask questions: “Would you like to know more about my skill in project management?“ (You know from the job description that this is one of the abilities the job requires.)

If you have the skills, the experience, the accomplishments that are needed, say so. This is no time to be self-effacing.

If you are in sales or marketing, make a statement that begins with “My customers/clients tell me …“ and end with a positive description. It will win you points.

When the applicant in an interview says, "That's a good question," you can be sure it's a lot better than the answer you are going to get.

What are your weaknesses?

The ‘weaknesses’ question is more difficult. Job seekers invariably want to know the best way to answer without actually displaying a weakness. And that is a wise road to take. I once asked that question to a young woman who responded, “I am not a morning person. I do my best work in the afternoon.” A wise ‘weakness’ answer? NOT!

Which of these answers would you select?

a) I used to get angry very easily but I have been attending anger management classes regularly … for the last three years.

b) Planning and organizing might be my weakest points so I do use calendars: a large one on the wall of my office, a desk calendar, the one on my computer, my iPad, and my iPhone, and two pocket planners that I carry.

c) I have just enrolled in a computer class … for beginners. (The job requires computer literacy.)

d) I am a perfectionist but I am working on that. Excuse me while I straighten these papers on your desk.

e) None of the above.

Answer (e) is correct. You may have been tempted to use the ‘perfectionist’ answer. If I kept a tally of how many times ‘being a perfectionist’ was named as either a strength or a weakness, it would have to be in the hundreds. I have often thought there must be popular books or training programs somewhere that postulate perfectionism as a praiseworthy, positive, proficient trait. Not so.

Do not say you are a perfectionist. Interviewers are turned off by that answer because it is so common and therefore has little meaning. In addition, employees who persist in being perfect cost the organization money. The secret, No one can be perfect all the time. Just try to be excellent.

The person who knows HOW will often get the job. The person who knows WHY will often be the boss.

Examples of answers you do not want to use:

“I am so detail-oriented I tend to be a perfectionist but I am working on that.” Really???

Or: “I am a workaholic … work is my middle name.” Hard to believe.

Or: “I am so committed to my work that it may make others look bad.” Don’t think so.

These are deceiving answers and any competent interviewer sees right through them. How should you answer this question? First, never indicate you have any weakness per se. Instead focus on statements that may appear to reveal a weakness but in fact indicate a strength – something you are improving or trying to overcome. For example:

“I know that a knowledge of Spanish would be useful so I have begun to study the language online. (Bring your English-Spanish pocket dictionary with you together with your extra resume.)

Or: “I attend every seminar or workshop offered that will enhance my management skills

You appear to be over-qualified.

The ‘over-qualified’ statement is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe because I heard it so often since I was always challenging myself with new careers and getting more aged (I like to think of it as maturing) in the process.

You know from your experience with the illegal questions that interviewers are usually careful not to ask, “So, how old are you?” They know if they do and you do not get hired they may be risking an age discrimination charge. So if you are older – and that could be 40 and beyond – you may hear that ‘you appear to be overqualified’ statement. What should you say?

a) Whatddya mean overqualified? I’ll have you know I was doing work like this when you were a whippersnapper, sonny boy, and still running around in diapers.

b) Isn’t that an illegal statement?

c) Are you saying I’m too old?

d) None of the above.

The correct answer is (d). Even if you are tempted, resist the above answers. Instead, if you really are overqualified, try this answer: “Absolutely, and isn’t that to your advantage?” And then list the reasons why.

I can attest to using this answer successfully on more than one occasion. When you answer in that vein, it gives you an opportunity to reiterate the qualities and accomplishments that make you the best fit for the job. It is really an opportunity as long as you do not take umbrage at the question. (umbrage – an old French word meaning where the heck did I leave my old umbrella?)

Sometimes, that ‘overqualified’ statement has nothing to do with your perceived age. It represents instead a polite way of indicating ‘you are too expensive,’ or ‘you have earned more previously so you probably would not stay long.’ But those sentiments are not verbally expressed – they would be considered discriminatory.

More and more as you interview, you will be encountering behavioral questions rather than these subjective questions. In other words, interviewers will be asking what you did do in previous jobs– not what would you do. You might like to read: 99 Typical Behavioral Interview Questions.”

Keep this in mind: When you interview, you want to sedulously avoid all polysyllabic profundity, pompous propensity and platitudinous pontification. Or, as William Safire so succinctly stated, “Use diminutive words.”

Now, go get ‘em, tiger!

© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2011. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So"

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Comments 26 comments

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Drbj - you do pick the really hard questions to help with! At my last job one of those questions was asked about my weaknesses at work....I answered pretty truthfully that my weaknesses usually aren't related to my work life. I added my worst weakness is balancing my checkbook or making a weeks meal plan:). Things I quickly thought ever human could relate to. And true!! Lol

I like these articles a lot from the perspective of a small business owner too ;)


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

If I ever have to do another job interview,(which I hope I do not), I will bear all those invaluable tips in mind. Of course, occasionally people go to interviews, who actually don't want the job offered. But that is a different story.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Kelly, Thanks for appreciating that I have chosen the hardest questions for interviewees to answer. Although it may be the simplest questions - on an application - that are difficult for some folks. I remember a young lady who asked what 'residence' meant.

Thanks for reminding me that entrepreneurs could also benefit from this series. I may do another from the perspective of the interviewer.

As always, your presence is most appreciated, m'dear. Have a phenomenalicious weekend!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Good to see you again, christopher. Hope all is well with you. Thank you for finding these tips invaluable - now that's three of us! Kelly, you and me!

Thanks for reminding me that people often go to interviews but not because they really want a particular job. Instead it may be that 1) they want to practice before the important interview they will be having; or 2) they want to continue receiving unemployment benefits (in the U.S.) and need to show that they are actively job searching. Such is the world!


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I will and I hope you do too!

You're articles are always so informative and you always add humor - I'd love to see that hub! It would be beneficial for me! I am always on the look out for good abstractors and they are hard to come by and it's so hard to tell....I had one woman who worked one day - didn't finish her job and came back with alcohol on her breath and told me she had to leave to get to the bar for happy hour.....then she sued me when I didn't ask her back.....I just didn't think I could count on the job being right so I couldn't use her again. Shucks! Didn't see that coming!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very useful hub, drbj! I've been in the same job for a long time, but I'm bookmarking this hub - and I'm going to read Part One too - in case I need it in the future. You've given some great, practical advice - and the hub is entertaining too!


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

This is a hub that I will bookmark as I suck at interviews. They make me so nervous. On a lighter note..I had gone for an interview this one day for a telemarketing job that I really didn't want. I had thought that maybe because I passed the computer end of the interview they may offer me a job strictly working with computers. Anyway....The interviewer asks me "Why do you want a telemarketing job?" I reply with the worst possible answer..."I'm bored at home."

I am off to read part one.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

Another interesting and helpful article. Thank goodness i am not looking for a job. I know i would fail because i chose an incorrect answer..I refuse to admit which one..Your word vocabulary is remarkable. ( I'm not kidding ) I must say that George Carlin's quote made me LOL..I might add that i miss him..Sigh..Thank you..I had fun..Cheers


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Kelly, thanks for sharing that story. Hiring good people is one of the most difficult tasks any manager or entrepreneur will have. Sometimes, despite all our 'book larnin' it boils down to gut feelings. And I always suggest listening to one's gut. Our minds can rationalize using intelligence, but our guts are strictly emotions. Trust your gut.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Alicia, good to see you. Delighted you are bookmarking this hub. You will find some more practical advice in Part One.

Thanks for finding this useful AND entertaining. I appreciate your noticing.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I love that advice Drbj and if you'd said that - I would have told Dave not to hire her. I did have a funny feeling about her!! Well in the end - I won but it cost me!

Thank you!!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Dear Susan - You are not alone with being nervous at interviews. That seems to be a universal trait - somewhere up there with the fear of public speaking and dentists.

I'm going to hazard a really wild guess here after reading your 'I'm bored at home' retort that you did NOT get the job. What fools these interviewers be!

Thanks for visiting and yes, please do read Part One and let me know whatcha think. Now go forth and bookmark away.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

It is a relief, isn't it, Ruby, when one does not have to dread interviews any longer. I often tell applicants who fear interviewing to interview for a few jobs they do not really want just to get some experience.

You mentioned my vocabulary. I try to improve it by learning and using new words whenever I can. Now it's my speling that neads sum assistence.

Thanks for having fun. And I miss George, too.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Well, you are still ahead of the game, Kelly, ready for the next time. You are welcome. :)


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

Excuse me while I straighten these comments on your hub, my darling drbj, and searching for that one Typical Behavioral Interview Question you’ve hidden in here. Oh, you want me to fly.... Why?

As always drbj, your advice on Interviewing is priceless. Voted up and extremely important to know before going for an interview.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Martie. Thank you for being such a loyal and interesting, fun commenter. You often make my day. And thanks for the 'priceless and extremely important' adjectives. Love them ... and you.

You will find that hub I mentioned is titled "99 Typical Behavioral Interview Questions." Enjoy!


Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

Hi drbj,

I feel I used to be so much better at interviews when I was younger. You would think that it may get better with age, but not for me. Losing a couple really good, long-term jobs has hurt my self esteem and it is difficult not to show that on the outside. These hubs are helpful to me, thanks!

Sharyn


Derdriu 5 years ago

drbj: Would you say that a helpful interview guide is this message which Henry VIII passed along with the execution date to Sir Thomas More: "Use few words!"

Thank you for the humorously couched astute advice, voted up, etc.,

Derdriu


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

You are so right, Sharyn. Losing long-term jobs does little to enhance our self-confidence. The best solution is to use self-talk and convince yourself: 'I am unique. There is no one else in the entire world just like me. I am still the same person I was when I was productive in my job.'

And then you just have to convince the interviewer about what an asset you can be. But first, you MUST believe it yourself. It isn't easy but it IS possible. Good luck. Happy this hub has been helpful or you.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, Derdriu, for reading my 'astute' interview advice and the up vote. Your visits are always appreciated.

You mentioned that Henry VIII chastised Sir Thomas More before his execution with the statement, "Use few words!"

I think that possibly Henry was less disturbed by More's verbosity than the fact Sir Thomas appeared to snub Anne Boleyn at her coronation. More acknowledged her as queen but may have felt she was a homewrecker - he supported Henry's former queen, Catherine of Aragon. Maybe I'll get to interview him one day and learn the real truth!


Angela Kane profile image

Angela Kane 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

Very good hub about interview questions, I work with job seekers every day and the details in this article will be useful to followers.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you, Angela. Be my guest and share this info with your clients. You may also want to check out Part One of this series.


holdmycoffee profile image

holdmycoffee 5 years ago

Absolutely love this "Q. How many people work here? A. About half of them!" SO TRUE!

I like your style of writing, almost serious, yet not boring. Another nice hub.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, holdmycoffee. I knew you would love the 'how many people work here?' question. It's one of my favorites. Thank you for noticing my semi-serious but not boring style. I have always found that laughter and humor make learning fun and retention easier.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago

This Hub is truly outstanding. I have hired hundreds of people and your advice is nearly perfect. You did get me though with "sedulously." I had to go look that one up! But I do have "How Not To Write" on the bookcase behind me. :-)


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

You always know just the right thing to say, James, and 'truly outstanding' happens to be my all-time favorite. Thank you.

So I gotcha with sedulously? Hard to believe with your extensive, prolific vocabulary. I once thought of publishing a book titled, "Speling Made Eazy." But my query letters never provoked a reply from an interested publisher. Hard to understand. :)

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